Thursday, September 27, 2007


I'll Sing You One-O

by Nan Gregory

Gemma has lived on the Anderson's farm since she was 4, so even though they are foster parents, they are her family. Until the day that her uncle, aunt, and brother arrive and take her away to their too-perfect home with their persnickety rules and try to make her belong where she thinks it's clear she doesn't. She decides that she needs an angel to help her sort things out so she can go back to the farm and the only family that she has ever known. She goes to the library to do some research (yay!) and reads about the lives of many saints, deciding that she can get an angel to help her by being generous and taking care of someone worse off than her. She befriends a woman in the park (though of course, there is plenty she doesn't know about Willow's world), and gives over her allowance, even stealing a jacket from her uncle to offer her for warmth. Though her uncle is wondering what has been happening with her allowance, he doesn't pry much. But when Christmas comes around and she is told she should be buying gifts from her savings, she panics and sells a set of old lead soldiers from the attic which, come the holidays, turn out to be precious family memories.

As she digs herself deeper into trouble, not through malice but through not understanding, I found myself getting more and more worried for her. She's a character who you care about, because all she wants is the family she loves, and she is trying to get there by doing good so she can get a miracle bestowed upon her. Poor thing. As she becomes more desperate (and I more tense), she finally confronts some of her past and has to come to terms with her new family.

It's a heart-wrenching story, but ends well in the end, when her uncle and aunt come to understand her in a whole new light, and she starts to build some loyalties to her long-lost brother. I do love a good ending, especially when I've been rooting for the main character.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007



by Tim Bowler

A boy who has lost his father two years ago has been having a difficult time ever since. Although he is a sensitive boy, a nice boy, an incredibly gifted and musical boy, he is not and in no way wants to be in touch with his own emotions over the whole thing. He and his mother have never really talked about his father, and he says he doesn't want to. Instead, he's been hanging around with the village gang of yobbos and is starting to get himself into real trouble with them. This in turn results in him stumbling into the lives of a reclusive old woman and a damaged young girl she's caring for, who will only really respond to his music. Add his mother's burgeoining relationship with a man from the village, and he is starting to spin out of control. As this is going on, he also finds himself more and more sensitive to sounds most of the world can't hear, and is beginning to see an image with them - something he is told his father experienced, too.

It all comes to a head one day, culminating in the gang trying to kill him, and him seeking help from the man he hates for just being near his mother. In the end, he ends up bringing people together and feeling acceptance of others in a way he hasn't for a long time, partly in thanks to his being so strangely attuned to the music of the universe.

This is a lovely book, one written so beautifully that I didn't want to put it down, and every one of the characters drew me into their stories and made me care deeply about the outcomes. The boy's struggle with his own grief and anger are handled in a very real way, and the eventual reconciling of many stories, with all plotlines coming to nice, rounded out conclusions doesn't feel false, but hopeful. This was really wonderful to get lost in.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007


Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet

by Joanne Proulx

This adult book is one I think should also be located in the teen section, for having both a teen protagonist and great teen appeal.

Luke is just hanging with his usual stoner friends, living up to his own low expectations, when something weird happens and he forecasts the death of his friend, down to the finest detail. Not only that, but he feels his friend's soul as he dies. And then his neighbour. And then one or two people he doesn't know. And all the weirdness sends him into this strange spiral. At the same time, he keeps getting closer to than further away from his dead friend's girlfriend and his own damaged friend, Fang. His confusion and despair and the haze of drugs he tries to maintain for some time keep him from really dealing with things with a while, but in the end, he figures out some ways to try and bring things under control again. Meanwhile, he learns a few things about himself and his real potential and how others really see him.

The book is a great tale of how to deal, about how boys, especially, can have trouble accessing the parts they need in order to handle something so out of their control. It is, in some ways, a book about maturing, and learning, too. I wanted him to sort things out all the way through - I need to care about a character to love a book, and I did, because he has something about him, as people tell him. He's not just the waster he pretends to be. He does care about some people.

I think the thing that really makes this, though, that elevates all these elements, is that the voice is perfect. The voice of a teen who is scared to face real life, who would prefer to pretend apathy, but has more heart than he wants to show. Who is frustrated at times, who hates and loves at the same time, and is sometimes confused about his own feelings. It's just spot on, and it gives this book a big boost into gold star territory.

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Friday, September 14, 2007



by Sarah Pennypacker, ill. Marla Frazee.

There are a few sets and series of early chapter books about slightly wild young girls - Judy Moody, Tilly Beanie, and of course, Junie B. Jones. These girls are meant to be fun and inspiring and remind us of the fun of not yet being quite bound by the rules of civilization. And some, like the Ramona books, I love, some I'm lukewarm on, and some I think just come off as brats. This one? I love.

Clementine has a heart of gold, a brain constantly popping with great ideas, and an itchy trigger finger. Some ideas get her in trouble or cause her principal to rub her forehead, but others work out just right, like the times she tries to help Margaret feel better about her hair being all gone, or when she helps her dad lick the pigeons problem. This kid comes by it honestly, with an artist mom and a head of wild red hair, and it just seems to all fit right. The voice is spot on, a real kid who doesn't always get it, but is trying hard, not the voice of the jaded or overly precocious or class-clown variety of kids that these books sometimes use. And while I normally wouldn't bother worrying about illustrations in a chapter book, Frazee's trademark line drawings capture Clementine's spirit and her mother's own laid-back ways perfectly, even adding to the comic effect of certain haircuts that happen along the way...

Love it.

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Things Hoped For

by Andrew Clements. Not so much a sequel as a related followup to Things Not Seen, in which Bobby becomes invisible for about a month, with no apparent reason, and figures out a lot of things while dealing with that.

This book opens with the story of Gwennie, a music student on the verge of her college auditions. She's under pressure, sees her whole life leading up to this, and needs to play well enough to get a scholarship. At the same time, her grandfather and great-uncle Hank are arguing about the selling of the house that she lives in with her grandpa. Things take a turn for the weird when her grandpa leaves her a message saying he has to disappear for the next few days and that she should not let anyone know, should keep the house running and not worry, and should spend whatever money she needs. She worries anyhow, of course, and tries to keep Hank at bay while still getting in some practice. She gets help in the form of another music student she met the year before who shows up, starts chatting, and sticks with her when she spills the beans to him. This turns out to be Robert, as Bobby now calls himself. He ends up telling her about his weird past event when he sees the shadow of another invisible. The man turns out to be a nasty business, but after he and Gwennie figure out the nystery of grandpa and go to the police, both plots get wrapped up nicely.

Andrew Clements is one of my favourite authors for kids. I like his writing, I like how his plots move, and mostly, I like that his characters are generally found by the end to be pretty fully drawn. All too often in kidslit, adults are stock characters, but he really fleshed them out into real people with real worries and motivations, and shows them to the kids who read him. This was not as fully performed here, as the story revolved very tightly around Gwennie and her music, but by the end, she (and we) had gotten to know a lot more about her grandpa and even Uncle Hank, and realized that her story was not so simple, not just her and her music, but that she has been focussed really narrowly.

And the ending? Well, her dad had come up to help sort out the mystery of her grandfather, appearing in the last day of the tale, and then he went to her audition with her. How did she do? Well, we don't know, but the point was made that she saw something important - that wasn't the only thing for her anymore. And off she went.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007


The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak.

This was one of the big titles for last fall, riding in on recommendations and reviews aplenty, so I had to read it, of course. I make it my business to try to catch a good range, and most of the big titles.

I started this, and was put off by the voice initially. I found it annoying, and the little sidenotes a bit overdone. I thought I'd give it a few chapters, though, and that feeling did pass once the story really got started and I got involved with the characters. I'm glad to find that, as I was a bit worried that I had not enjoyed this and one other of the big, high-hype books from last fall on the same theme, but for children.

So, once I got into it, I still found it heavy going. But the characters are drawn with love, and relationships between them grown carefully, the ups and downs drawn out and unravelled slowly. It is nice, but it is slow.

The story centres around a young girl being shipped to foster care just outside of Munich during the second world war. On the way, her brother dies, and she steals a book during the brief funeral. Left with these new people, she both suffers terrible nightmares and it is discovered that she cannot read. Her new papa sits patiently with her at night, keeping the dreams away, and eventually teaches her to read. As she find comfort in reading, she finds ways to gain access to books and slowly steals more of them, earning her name. During a bombing raid one night, she shares her comfort, reading to the other twenty-odd frightened souls huddled in a basement.

Also worked into this book are some other themes each capable of carrying a novel on its own. Firstly, the hiding of a lone jew in the basement, a shadow of a man who touches her deeply as the two become friends. Secondly, her own coming of age in a time of crisis, poverty, starvation. The way children carry on with the business of playing street soccer, of trying to steal a kiss, of running races and going to school and helping their family in ways that are necessary according to their times.

It is, I repeat, a heavy tome in many ways, but while I didn't absolutely love it, I stuck with it, and don't regret the three weeks it took me. It had some charming descriptive language, though it was getting a bit repetitive by page 450 or so. It had characters I cared about. It was something that could be taken in small morsels and savoured. It has things going for it, or I wouldn't have stuck it out - I long ago decided it was okay not to finish a book - but ultimately, I'm not sure I see many teens reading and enjoying it. It would have to be one who would in fact savour just those right few things, or one who was really intrigued with the time and place, perhaps.

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